February 25, 2010 / 5:54 AM / 10 years ago

Sarkozy meets French ex-hostage in Mali

BAMAKO (Reuters) - French aid worker Pierre Camatte, who was released from captivity by North African al Qaeda militants this week, met President of France Nicolas Sarkozy in Malian capital Bamako on Thursday.

“I thank my friend the president of Mali (Amadou Toumani Toure) for all he has done for the liberation of Pierre Camatte,” Sarkozy told journalists in Mali’s presidential palace.

Camatte, released on Tuesday, was brought to Bamako by Mali’s security forces a day later. He was due to fly to Paris after the news conference, while Sarkozy left for Rwanda.

“I say to the people of Mali, that in your fight against al Qaeda, against terrorists, against assassins, that France ... is determinedly by your side,” Sarkozy said.

Sarkozy, who was accompanied by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, said France was committed to fighting al Qaeda in the Sahel region, which straddles black and Arab Africa. “I’m thinking particularly of Mauritania and Algeria,” he said.

During a visit to Gabon on Wednesday, Sarkozy drew attention to what analysts say is a growing problem in a vast, inhospitable desert region in North and West Africa which is extremely difficult to police.

“I don’t want to forget that there are still other hostages in the area, Spaniards and Italians, who are being held by these terrorist groups that are rampant in the Sahel,” he said there.

“All states that are able to do so have to work towards obtaining their release,” he added.

Camatte was taken hostage by al Qaeda’s north African wing in Mali in November. His release came after Mali freed four Islamist prisoners that al Qaeda had demanded released by February 22 to ensure Camatte was not executed.

The prisoner swap has angered Algeria and Mauritania, two countries where al Qaeda cells also operate.

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